James Clapper Pretends It Was Just A Good Idea To Suddenly Declassify FISA Documents; Doesn't Mention EFF Lawsuit Or Snowden
from the oh-yeah,-just-a-good-idea-you-had dept
Following a somewhat rancorous fight with the Justice Department, the EFF announced last week that the DOJ had finally caved in and agreed to release hundreds of pages of documents related to the NSA’s surveillance activities. The EFF had filed a FOIA lawsuit after the feds refused to reveal the secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act that supposedly “authorizes” the NSA to collect metadata on every single phone call. The DOJ had pushed back, before finally giving in — probably after realizing it was going to lose in court. Just a little while ago, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a bunch of these now declassified reports to the public. We’ll have more analysis on them later, but just wanted to point out how petty the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is. Rather than admit that the declassification and publication had anything whatsoever to do with (a) the EFF’s FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit or (b) the Ed Snowden leaks that have increased the scrutiny on these programs or even (c) Senator Ron Wyden letting the world know that ODNI was relying on a “secret interpretation” of Section 215 in a classified ruling from the FISA Court, Clapper basically says he just decided to declassify these documents after President Obama asked him to be a bit more transparent.
In June of this year, President Obama directed me to declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain sensitive intelligence collection programs undertaken under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) while being mindful of the need to protect national security. Consistent with this directive, today I authorized the declassification and public release of a number of documents pertaining to the Government’s collection of bulk telephony metadata under Section 501 of the FISA, as amended by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. These documents were properly classified, and their declassification is not done lightly. I have determined, however, that the harm to national security in these circumstances is outweighed by the public interest.
Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this intelligence collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States.
That last sentence there is particularly laughable. It was nothing of the sort. This is damage control, as ODNI and the administration are at least trying to get partially ahead of future Snowden leaks that are clearly on the way, and which have already revealed some aspects of these programs. Even more ridiculous, is that the ODNI clearly is trying to position the documents released as highlighting the “extraordinary measures” the intelligence community has taken to try to “identify and correct mistakes.” Leaving aside all of the evidence of problems and abuse, as well as the near total lack of transparency before this.
Furthermore, the ODNI tries to downplay the “compliance incidents” revealed in these documents… by admitting that the program was such a mess that many at the NSA had no idea how it worked, which is why they lied to the FISA Court about it all:
The compliance incidents discussed in these documents stemmed in large part from the complexity of the technology employed in connection with the bulk telephony metadata collection program, interaction of that technology with other NSA systems, and a lack of a shared understanding among various NSA components about how certain aspects of the complex architecture supporting the program functioned. These gaps in understanding led, in turn, to unintentional misrepresentations in the way the collection was described to the FISC.
So, basically, for years the system was such a mess that even those in charge of defending it didn’t understand it or what it could do, and that resulted in abuses. That’s really comforting.